Gotta admit I don't have a lotta time for most so-called "reality" programming (most who know me would probably state I don't have time for much reality!
). But me and Missus Barbers did take time out of our busy Scrabble-playing evenings to watch Mo'Nique's Fat Chance
on the Oxygen net last night. Billed as the first "full-figured reality beauty pageant," the show featured ten plus-sized women as they competed for the title of Miss F.A.T., which our preggers and plus-sized hostess explained stood for "Fabulous and Thick." Not the most inspiring of initial sets – especially since the 2nd adjective can stand for "dumb" along with "substantial" – but then people in the fat acceptance movement have been struggling to come up with good non-pejorative ways to describe Big Beautiful Women for decades.
The show, which in the tradition of too-damn-much reality teevee, padded its two hours by switching between the competition (basically, a series of catwalks) and emotion-laden sequences showing the contestants as they receive the news they’ve been selected and as they later prepare for the show. The first set of "inspirational" sequences was majorly artificial: when we're privy to the sight of them receiving the word by phone that they'll be part of the pageant, you can't help wondering where the hell the camera came from. The latter was a bit more amusing, particularly when professional fashion show producer Harvey Star Washington was on camera showin' the girls how to strut their stuff. (The guy's so flaming he makes Robin Williams' doing his patented screaming queen character look subdued.) Wish we could've seen more of the moments where our training contestants were taught to loosen up by learning pole dancing, but since this is Oxygen, that's probably asking too much.
As for the pageant, well, after the first competition, the wife (who was also comparing notes on the phone during commercials with a super-sized friend from Tinley Park) and I attempted to anticipate the judges by guessing who the finalists would be. We both were impressed by Sharon, a mid-sized forty-ish black woman with a shaved head from New York, since she almost immediately claimed the stage as the one most comfortable with her body, but Becky also liked Joanne, a younger mid-sized woman who looked most conventionally pretty and had goals of being a singer and a model. There were fuller sized women in the competition, of course – the producers seem to be actively working to at least represent a better range of plus-sized body types – most of which look quite stunning. But one scan of the judges (two mainstream magazine fashion editors, a plumpish fashion designer, a plus-sized model with way too many tats on her arms and Shaquille O'Neal to represent the I'm-A-Celebrity-But-I-Loves-the-Ladies contingent), and it was fairly clear that we were not gonna see a Miss F.A.T. who has to order her clothing from the super-sized shoppes.
Mo'Nique, as our mistress of ceremonies, could be fun when she was comically riffing on the topic at hand (coming out onstage at one point in a pair of very high heels, she noted that these were "ten-minute heels"), but, as the night wore on, the number of sentimental and self-congratulatory moments grew exceedingly wearisome. Yes, it's a big deal for mainstream television – even if is
confined to the specialty channel fringes of basic cable – to do a full-figured beauty pageant, particularly when the mainstream nets' response to the existence of fat Americans is to come up with an exploitive piece of crap like The Big Loser
. But did every sequence have to contain a reminder of how "ground-breaking" this all is? Shut up and just show us the ladies. . .
Besides, even if
this is the first time we've been shown a BBW lingerie show on national television, many of us in the fat acceptance movement have attended our share of 'em at NAAFA events. So please quit telling us that this type of thing has "never been seen before."
And while the show was being sponsored by Just My Size (who at least go up to a 40W in their selection, though their models, a la
Lane Bryant, look about as fat as a Dove model), two of the other frequent sponsors just had to be Diet 7-Up and some form of low-cal booze using the slutty gal from Sex And the City
as its spokeswoman. (S'okay to be a boozer – as long as you're a skinny boozer!) Mixed messages from television? Who'd have thunk it?
In the end, the competition came down to the two women Becky predicted (though I – sucker that I am for a strapless dress that shows the shoulders and upper arms – was pulling for a plus-sized beauty named Monique halfway through the show): the "mature" Sharon and her callow competitor Joanne. Final competition proved to be a question where both women were asked, "If you could say one thing to skinny America, what would it be?" The twenty-something got to go first, and her answer was as egocentric as you might expect from a would-be singer/model: "Just love me . . . not my size." But when Sharon was given the same question, her first reply won me over for good: "Eat a cheeseburger . . . you'll be a lot happier."
Of course, the young kid won. We may've been breaking ground here, but let's not get carried away, right? The show ended with m-c Mo'Nique promising there'll be a second pageant next year. We'll probably watch, but next time I'm recording the show – and skipping through the faux "reality" segments to the good stuff. That way, I won't have to watch another poor girl fail when she breaks that pledge to herself not to cry. . .